Colombo (AsiaNews) – "Pope Francis’ encyclical goes far beyond my expectations. It supports social and environmental justice, which civil society groups have fought for over half a century. It is a revolutionary document: it is a new hope for our common home,” said Hemantha Withanage (pictured), executive director of the Centre for Environmental Justice/Friends of the Earth in Sri Lanka
"The encyclical letter is true inspiration for the protection of the world,” the Buddhist leader and activist told AsiaNews.
Its sweep is very broad, covering various themes, not only energy and climate justice, but also the preservation of biodiversity, the responsibility of rich countries vs poor countries, waste, consumption, and the environmental assessment of economic choices. “The pope even proposes to reduce the growth of developed economies to pay for their ecological debt."
According to the environmentalist, the scientific studies that Francis refers to show how global warming in recent years is related to greenhouse gases, caused by pollution produced by human activities.
The pope stresses that the progressive deterioration of "our sister earth" was caused by a development model based on the intensive use of fossil fuels. Therefore, it is "a moral imperative to act on climate change with the utmost urgency and courage."
In Sinhalese, Sri Lanka’s main language, the word “development” is translated as ‘san+vardayana’. This is no accident. According to the Buddhist tradition, “san" can mean lobha (greed), moha (hatred) and dvesha (ignorance), the three poisons that harm humans inside and outside.
With his encyclical, the pontiff sides with the poor and the marginalised, as Mgr Kikuchi noted, because those who suffer the most the consequences of today’s reckless exploitation of the environment are those who contributed the least to the current crisis.
In fact, in the document the Holy Father warns against the danger of blindly trusting technical solutions or industrial agriculture that rely on pesticides and genetically modified organisms. "Consumerism and contaminated food are the greatest problem today,” said Withanage.
In his document, “Pope Francis invites us to give up pesticides and technical means to feed the world, which more often than not serve financial interests.”
‘Laudato si’’ focuses on climate justice because of huge social inequalities in poor developing countries. The latter lack the economic means and resources to adapt to climate change or handle natural disasters.
Climate is increasing the number of environmentally displaced people. According to some estimates, at least 250 million people who will become "climate refugees" by the end of the century.
Rich countries are largely to blame for the situation. The unfettered quest for profit does not consider the long-term negative impact on the environment.
Governments ignore the voice of local communities and that of poor countries already suffering from serious environmental problems.
Hence, the pope’s encyclical stresses the urgent need to develop strong policies for years to come on how to reduce CO2 and other highly polluting emissions and replace them with renewable energy.
The adverse implications of rapid economic development, to which the pope referred, are also found in Sri Lanka; for example, Colombo’s new port and the environmental disasters it might cause.
“In our country,” he said, "the process of project approval is subject to corruption and political pressure. We need to follow what the pope said, namely make sure that environmental impact assessments do not come after economic and political plans are already made.”
Such assessments “must be part of a project from the beginning and must be carried out in an interdisciplinary way, transparent and free from any political or economic pressure. Honesty and truth are necessary conditions for any scientific or political discussion."